James Clapper Pretends It Was Just A Good Idea To Suddenly Declassify FISA Documents; Doesn't Mention EFF Lawsuit Or Snowden

from the oh-yeah,-just-a-good-idea-you-had dept

Following a somewhat rancorous fight with the Justice Department, the EFF announced last week that the DOJ had finally caved in and agreed to release hundreds of pages of documents related to the NSA’s surveillance activities. The EFF had filed a FOIA lawsuit after the feds refused to reveal the secret interpretation of Section 215 of the Patriot Act that supposedly “authorizes” the NSA to collect metadata on every single phone call. The DOJ had pushed back, before finally giving in — probably after realizing it was going to lose in court. Just a little while ago, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper released a bunch of these now declassified reports to the public. We’ll have more analysis on them later, but just wanted to point out how petty the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) is. Rather than admit that the declassification and publication had anything whatsoever to do with (a) the EFF’s FOIA request and subsequent lawsuit or (b) the Ed Snowden leaks that have increased the scrutiny on these programs or even (c) Senator Ron Wyden letting the world know that ODNI was relying on a “secret interpretation” of Section 215 in a classified ruling from the FISA Court, Clapper basically says he just decided to declassify these documents after President Obama asked him to be a bit more transparent.

In June of this year, President Obama directed me to declassify and make public as much information as possible about certain sensitive intelligence collection programs undertaken under the authority of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) while being mindful of the need to protect national security. Consistent with this directive, today I authorized the declassification and public release of a number of documents pertaining to the Government’s collection of bulk telephony metadata under Section 501 of the FISA, as amended by Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act. These documents were properly classified, and their declassification is not done lightly. I have determined, however, that the harm to national security in these circumstances is outweighed by the public interest.

Release of these documents reflects the Executive Branch’s continued commitment to making information about this intelligence collection program publicly available when appropriate and consistent with the national security of the United States.

That last sentence there is particularly laughable. It was nothing of the sort. This is damage control, as ODNI and the administration are at least trying to get partially ahead of future Snowden leaks that are clearly on the way, and which have already revealed some aspects of these programs. Even more ridiculous, is that the ODNI clearly is trying to position the documents released as highlighting the “extraordinary measures” the intelligence community has taken to try to “identify and correct mistakes.” Leaving aside all of the evidence of problems and abuse, as well as the near total lack of transparency before this.

Furthermore, the ODNI tries to downplay the “compliance incidents” revealed in these documents… by admitting that the program was such a mess that many at the NSA had no idea how it worked, which is why they lied to the FISA Court about it all:

The compliance incidents discussed in these documents stemmed in large part from the complexity of the technology employed in connection with the bulk telephony metadata collection program, interaction of that technology with other NSA systems, and a lack of a shared understanding among various NSA components about how certain aspects of the complex architecture supporting the program functioned. These gaps in understanding led, in turn, to unintentional misrepresentations in the way the collection was described to the FISC.

So, basically, for years the system was such a mess that even those in charge of defending it didn’t understand it or what it could do, and that resulted in abuses. That’s really comforting.

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Comments on “James Clapper Pretends It Was Just A Good Idea To Suddenly Declassify FISA Documents; Doesn't Mention EFF Lawsuit Or Snowden”

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Beech says:

“So, basically, for years the system was such a mess that even those in charge of defending it didn’t understand it or what it could do, and that resulted in abuses. That’s really comforting.”

Plausible deniability. Plain and simple. Make the system too complex to understand, too complex to audit, too complex to explain to your oversight. If you’re General Alexander and you realize one of these programs is breaking the law, give Clapper a sugar coated version of it and send him to congress. If Clapper knows the NSA is breaking the law, he gives a sugar coated version to Obama and lets him try to assuage everyone’s fears. That way no one lies under oath, nor directly to the public. If they get called out on it all they need to do is they “Tee hee, I guess I misunderstood what I was talking about. Whoopsie.”

Anonymous Coward says:

I don’t trust anything coming from an alleged felonious liar. I’m sure there’s hundreds of thousand, if not millions, more constitutional violations are never “officially” reported.

They’re probably swept under the rug as “unintentional”, and therefor the agency is not required to report on them.

Everything is one big word game when it comes to dealing with liars.

Anonymous Coward says:

In the real world Clapper or Alexander would be fired by now for gross incompetence and likely arrested for treason.

In money/politics/corporate/bullshit/because terrorsm/I *heart* surveillance -land however its all good.

I wonder what their reaction would be if regular citizens went and dug down and tapped their fibre in Utah outside that nice new shiny data center that the citizens paid for. I am betting a “just trust us its for your own good” response would provoke quite an ironic incident.

Jose_X (profile) says:

Re: Re:

> In the real world Clapper or Alexander would be fired by now for gross incompetence and likely arrested for treason.

I disagree. In the private sector many people who have served their useful time are moved around rather than discarded. [I recently heard someone talk about the Peter Principle.] There are many mistakes made, especially when dealing with lots of data. Programmers make loads of mistakes downplayed as “bugs”. If you wear the hat of a government official and deal with lots of data, you stand potentially at some point to violate the constitutional rights of a great many people (“millions”) even while being average in intent and skill for you position.

More importantly than whether a wholesale meaningless violation of rights occurred is if harm took place and how much.

SpaceLifeForm says:

Re: Time to prosecute

Yeah, and who in the hell do you think is even going
to start the process? The Department of Injustice?
The FBI? The FBI is now relying on NSA info. How
independent do you think they can be? If all of the
evidence needed to prosecute the crooks inside the NSA
is controlled by the NSA, where is the FBI going to get
the evidence needed? And now, it appears that the NSA
has been destroying such evidence. Cleaning up.

Nothing is going to happen until Congress gets off their ass
and starts doing their fucking job.

Anonymous Coward says:

The more I hear from the Snowden revelations followed by the explanations given by all concerned in government, the less I believe their lies and the more I believe it is time to shut down the NSA, to end its financing, look at all the senior staff with criminal charges in mind, dig down through exactly what they have done with an independent investigator not tied in anyway to anyone now on the hill, and then review if it can ever come back as any sort of security agency at all.

Along with that the DHS and the TSA should also be looked at. It’s gone on too long, done too much, and most of it is totally against the Constitution.

It’s time to end this embarrassment, put the real crooks in jail, and give Snowden and Manning a hero’s welcome.

Anonymous Coward says:

this guy is real dangerous and definitely should be held accountable, not just for what has happened, what has been going on, but because he is treating the whole issue as if it is a joke! he continues to lie about the whole thing, giving no information when he should and continuously making out that when he does something under orders of the court, it’s actually him that has made the decision.

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